The Orissa government said on Tuesday it has begun the land acquisition process for the proposed Rs 51,000-crore (Rs 510-billion) Posco steel project in Jagatsinghpur district near here amidst tight security.
"We have begun acquiring government land in possession of individuals in Gada Kujang Panchayat area after proper verification," additional district magistrate (Paradip), Saroj K Choudhury said.
He said two persons, Rohit Behera and Basant Behera of Bhuyanpal village, were among first to receive cheques for Rs 1,15,000 each for their land of over ten decimal area used for cultivation of betel vine.
The work was progressing smoothly without trouble, he said.
Over 80 personnel from the Jagatsinghpur district administration and Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation were engaged for the land verification work conducted with the help of global positioning system, the ADM said.
About 200 armed policemen were deployed in the area during land verification and acquisition work undertaken by the two teams, officials said.
The process started despite reservation by the central committee of union ministries of forest and environment and tribal affairs which termed the land acquisition without implementating the Forest Land Rights Act as illegal.
"Under section 7 of the Forest Right Act, 2006, the officials involved in land acquisition at this stage are liable to be punished," said Asish Kothari, a member of the central committee.
Meanwhile, CPI deputy general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy said in Bhubaneswar that there should be no land acquisition before the central committee, which visited the proposed site, submitted its report and a decision was taken on the matter.
He said the government must ensure settlement of rights under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and that no land should be handed over to the user agency before this.
Members of United Action Committee, who were for the Posco project, voiced unhappiness saying it was improper as the rehabilitation package was yet to be finalised.
Though Posco-India had signed the memorandum of understanding with the Orissa government for setting up a 12 mtpa steel plant in June, 2005, not an inch of land could be acquired due to stiff resistance from local people.
The state government has initiated steps for renewal of the MoU, which lapsed last month.